The Black Dwarf

Brutality Towards Napoleon

Source: The Black Dwarf, No 32, Vol II Wednesday August 12, 1818;
Translated: from the original broadsheet by Mitchell Abidor.

Mr Editor:

It seems to be a subject of astonishment to one of your correspondents that any Englishman can be found base and foolish enough to commiserate the present condition of the fallen Napoleon: but, Sir, I am unable to discover anything in the circumstance at all calculated to excite surprise.

Our ancestors laboured under no apprehensions of tarnishing the brilliancy of their splendid achievements by the exercise of hospitality and magnanimity towards a conquered enemy.

When the heroic son of Edward the Third had taken prisoner John< king of France< at the memorable battle of Poitiers, “he received him,” says Smollett, “with the utmost respect and tenderness; he comforted him under his disaster by observing that success very often depends upon accident; that he had performed the part of consummate general and an undaunted hero; and that he had fallen into the hands of those who knew how to revere his virtues and misfortunes. He even waited upon him at supper and could not be prevailed upon to sit down, notwithstanding the entreaties of John, who bore his fate with unshaken fortitude; and expressed his satisfaction, that since he was doomed to captivity, he had the good fortune to be prisoner of the most gallant prince in the universe. When Edward returned to London with his illustrious prisoner, his father embraced him and told him that the victory did not please him so much as the modesty with which he bore his good fortune. As for the captive king he was entertained in a most sumptuous manner, and provided with an apartment in the kings’s palace until the Savoy could be fitted up for his reception.”

Perhaps, Sir, the field of Poitiers was barren of laurels compared with the plains of Waterloo, and the Black Prince not quite so illustrious a chieftain as our gracious Regent; but Napoleon, the confiding guest of the latter , was unequivocally as great as John the involuntary prisoner of the former, and might have been treated with equal hospitality without endangering the dignity and heroism of him, whom he mistook for “the most constant, and the most generous of his enemies.”

But we are told of the injustice, the ambition, the tyranny ,the illegitimacy (aye, there’s the rub) of Bonaparte- the manes of Palm, of Pichegru, of Wright and Enghien, are invoked to justify our worse than Algerine breach of hospitality and humanity. Let him bear the obloquy of these imputed crimes – who and what are his accusers? Innocent creatures! magnanimous politicians! amiable philanthropists! – The restorers of the Inquisition – the abettors of Ferdinand – the robbers of Copenhagen – the vandals of Washington – the incendiaries of Derby – the inhuman murderers of Ney and Labedoyere! – these are the men who impudently stand forth to declaim about the crimes of Napoleon, and to fulminate their political anathemas against all who will not join in their cowardly and inhuman denunciations!

Far be it from me to attempt to justify all the deeds of that extraordinary individual; we look not for perfection in human nature, especially when it is decked with the conqueror’s laurel, and arrayed in the imperial ermine, but I am free to avow my conviction that were kings and heroes to be tried by the pure standard of Christian morality, Napoleon would come forth from the ordeal as unsullied as any of his royal and legitimate contemporaries.

Stepney July 31